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(December 02, 1989)
Originally Published: December 02, 1989
Author: Elianne Halbersberg
Alice Cooper has been open all hours for longer than most in the rock biz. Now, with his latest album 'Trash' he's come up with a few special offers that look set to keep him clear of the bargain bins and instead make him a chart-topping best seller. But with the news that, to get into last week's Marquee show, fans would have to first clear London streets of a sackful of garbage, we feel it's time to ask the question: in the Great Supermarket Of Life, is this man completely off his trolley? Elianne Halbersberg wanders round with a shopping list.
Alice Cooper's publicist has some shock news: 'You'll have 20 minutes, maybe 30."
You're kidding me! I need more time! Who was there from the very first Alice album? Who can quote from his autobiography? Who was there to place stories left and right when he made his comeback? Who owns and loves all the really cool records like 'Dada' and 'Zipper Catches Skin'? Who retrieved his favorite leather jacket when it was stolen in Detroit?
And what is this '20 minutes maybe 30' business anyway? I need to ask: why there are no liner notes on the 'Trash' album? Who are the musicians? Why are Jon Bon Jovi and Steven Tyler on this record? And did Jon's hair ever move out of place during the recording sessions? Is Alice aware that this record is so slick that it almost slid off my turntable? What's it like in the top 20? If this is the Alice-does-sex album, then what's going under the guillotine this year? In the dangerous 1990's, will Alice-does-sex give new meaning to 'I Love The Dead'? Did he see the new safe sex message in the new Kiss album? Aren't these heady words from a band whose bass player boasts conquests in excess of 2,000 women? Are we to believe that it's better late than never? Am I straying from the original subject?!? (Yes! Calm Down! - Ed) and what the hell am I telling you all this for anyway? Telephone is ringing...
"The new show is our tribute to Barry Manilow!" a familiar voice announces. "I saw the Stones and they're doing things like '2000 Light Years From Home' and it's great - so we're going to do all the Stones songs!"
"Seriously, it's exciting because we're doing two or three songs that we've never done onstage. We doing 26 songs: almost the entire 'Trash' album and classics like 'Muscle Of Love', 'Gutter Cats Vs. The Jets', 'Desperado' (Yeah!!!). We're doing 'Cold Ethyl' and 'The Ballad Of Dwight Fry.' it's an hour-and-45-minute show."
"I'm not doing theatre in every song. There's a goodly amount, but I'd rather do more songs because, again, it's something different. We'll rock'n'roll a little more. We've got more material and as much theatre, only it's a longer show, a few new wrinkles, and that's what's taking so long."
The musicians on the record (whoever they are, since I have no liner notes!) are not the touring band. Instead, the road gang consists of lead guitarist Al Pitrelli (referred by Steve Vai), 22-year-old Toronto guitarist Pete Freezin', former Lita Ford bassist Tommy 'T-bone' Caradonna, ex-Joe Satriani/Marillion drummer Jonathan Mover, and keyboardist Derek Sherinian.
"I went through 300 players, auditioning every day for two weeks from 10 in the morning until 10 at night. I was looking for sound, attitude, look and approach to the songs. Pete knew the older material to the note and is a stickler about it. He corrects everyone if it's not exactly right. He corrects me if it's not exactly right!"
"Al is a free spirit, a '90s style player, so I got the best of both worlds. People who have come to rehearsal say this is the best rock'n'roll band I've ever had. The hardest thing about bringing in new musicians is initiating them to the Alice attitude. It's not easy to teach. With the songs I can say, 'Do this here because that's what Alice would do. You should do that, but Alice does this'.
"They give it the Alice twist and we could go out right now..." (he was in rehearsal as we spoke) "....and musically, I would be happy. We played the Cathouse on Halloween, a 40 minute set that was announced the day before, and it was a madhouse! There was no theatre, except for the natural theatre that is Alice onstage, and the place went crazy!"
To design the stageshow, I go by my mail. I've been getting hefty bags full since 'Trash' is doing so well. Everyone wants to see the guillotine. A lot of people have heard about it but haven't seen it, or saw it and couldn't believe it the first time, so we'll have that."
"It's a pretty physical show, with six extras. In hiring them, I look for all-purpose people who can sing, take direction, and take a fall."
"It will be really interesting to see who the audience is going to be. I'm not quite sure. The last US tour, there were a lot of leather jackets, probably 15 to 20 years old. With 'Trash' being a more sexual album and 'Poison' such a hit, we'll probably have more females."
"In Europe, audiences are the same; the only difference is that they don't have as much television and movies, so they are much more dependant on rock'n'roll for entertainment."
"When I do interviews there, they ask about songs like 'Halo Of Flies' and make a study of it! They buy the albums and digest them and know more about them then I do, because a lot of parts I forget about if I'm not doing them live! I have to think 'Why did I do that?' "
Although he is the recognised and oft-imitated King Of Shock, Cooper agrees that today's audience have pretty much seen it all.
"It's easy to make them go 'Oh, yeah' or, 'That's cool!' but not easy to shock people. It was easy in the 1970's because no-one had seen anything like us. There were no household word serial killers like Freddie Krueger, Jason and those guys. Even the news wasn't as brutal. If you watch television news now, you'll witness 30 to 40 murders a week. Sexually, it's the same thing. Sex is pretty open now - you can see it on cable TV."
"People in the 1970's were puritanical so when we gave them 1989 in 1970, they didn't know how to take it. In 1989, they're used to choreographed violence and the best we can do is take them on a good rollercoaster ride. I can scare them in places and leave them walking away saying, 'Wow! Did you see that?!' "
Does shock still exist, and if so, what shocks Alice Cooper?
"Now it really is a kind of non-existent thing," he admits. "Nothing shocks me. I'm affected by things - actually I am shocked by seeing bombings in Columbia, students being shot down in China, child abuse - how anyone can do those things to children, yes I am shocked. Sexually, no, I'm not shocked by anything. Everyone's done it all by now."
Which leads us to the 'Trash' theme.
"There has always been an underlying sexual thing in our shows. It's always been a very turn-on kind of show. The Alice Cooper Band and character are very sexual and I'm just defining that more in the material and songs."
"We always put Alice in a place to see what he'll do. We had him in an insane asylum, in school, in Hell. What happens to Alice now in a 'Bed Of Nails?' "
In these deadly times, it's impossible to resist taking this line of thought a bit further. Is it a test of responsibility to do a sex record when safety in numbers is being recommended, if not enforced?
"These are totally different rules we play by," he agrees. "Bands in the 1970s got away with murder, sexually, on tour. Back then, the worst that could happen is you'd get a shot and burn a little. Now you might die. The guys in my band - there will be unbelievably beautiful girls available, remember - will have to ask themselves, 'Do you feel lucky, punk?' "
"The next day I get on the bus and see the look on their faces: ''it was a great idea last night. Now I've got to get a blood test because I might be dying'. As far as the concept of the album, people asked if 'Poison' was about AIDS. I never thought about it, but it could be interpreted that way. I wrote it with the concept of seeing someone at the other end of the bar and inevitably always going after the wrong person. That's a sophisticated thought for rock'n'roll, but it's something we all go through, like being on a diet and having a chocolate sundae."
"Sex is not going to go away. We can't make it illegal and you won't see Alice preach anything, including Safe Sex. People are going to be natually safe. 99 per cent of people don't want to die from AIDS and it's like - who's going to stand at a busy intersection and say, 'I have an idea! I'll cross the street without looking!' people are going to use condoms."
Try convincing single men, my optimistic friend.... (steady on - shocked Ed)
On to brighter things - how important is the hit single in the grand scheme of things?
"It means an awful lot, opens every door in the world. Alice always had an open rein, but a hit record - everyone wants to know then."
"I always drew big audiences, but in the early 1990's, it's going to be huge. It will parallel, if not be bigger than, the 1970's. MTV gets you into five million homes a day. They tell audiences to go out and buy a record, and that's fine with me. I won't sit back and say that I'm not a capitalist, especially when I have an album that I feel is worth buying."
"Epic gave me unlimited time and budget and have promoted it to death. They said, 'just give us the right album, the answer to 'Billion Dollar Babies'. I picked Desmond child to produce and we've got the right songs. The audience can't be fooled. You can' stop great songs."
"I've got more respect for radio now. I hear things I really like: Guns'n'Roses, Bang Tango. You would never have heard those things eight years ago. The last album I bought was by the Sea Hags. I was on the road doing a promotional tour when I heard the single and I really wanted to hear the rest of the album."
when asked if his sense of humour remains overlooked by those who analyse/criticise his work, he fires back: "I hope so! I told the band, 'We'll do this and this and this, and 75 to 90 per cent of the people will get it, while some will absolutely believe it" I cant' believe people still ask me how I got my name! I am the most interviewed person in rock'n'roll, and it's almost to the point where sometimes I want to say, 'I'm not answering that' because if they don't know, if they're not from this planet, if they don't read, then their concept is probably better than the real answer!"
His long-time relationship with the press, good and bad, remains enigmatic.
"It's amazing how they're into you as an underdog, yet I don't think I've read one good review of 'Trash' in a straight newspaper. They say 'Alice is so commercial now'. The underground papers are more lenient. They let me breathe. The press forgets that Alice at his peak had top 10 records, big hits on the radio. 'School's Out' and 'Billion Dollar Babies' were commercial albums."
"A lot of times, people don't want you to break out. They wanted me to keep doing splatter and I could, but I didn't want to paint myself into a corner with blood. Besides, a lot more people like sex than blood and guts!"
Finally, as 30 minutes come to a close - and Alice's assistant begins to announce very loudly, over and over, "it's time to go, it's time to go..." - I ask one last question: is it difficult being Alice?
"No, it's not. In fact, I really live in a strange double-world. I walk the street and forget who I am, then suddenly there are 25 people in line asking for my autograph. It's not even the character they see onstage. It's just plain old me. But that's okay, because I know Alice is the one they really want!"
The walking dead are here. Legions draped in black, the torn Cooper visage on almost every chest. Alice full of infamous trash bags. Dirty grey clones wandering listlessly around the bar.
For every theatric that Alice chose to drop from this show, read all, the Romero body bag lookalikes more than made up for it with their air of shambling decay and instilling rot.
Though, when 'Billion Dollar Babies' rattles it's filthy mane into life, they transform. Huge rags, dusty blankets shook into life. Writhing, punching, clouds of chalk white floating up and around them.
Alice has the look of malevolent evil that just happens to have seen this all before. Mass possession comes as second nature, incitement to riot nothing too out of hand. That's why he sucker punches the front row with 'Eighteen' and barely a perceptible flicker of emotion or respite crosses his face.
The Mutant Deadheads have flipped and formed their own gang called the Crazies. The heavy eye make-up mingles with sweat somewhere around their necks. The pale dust faces broken by disfigured grins. Real crazy.
The band. Who, for a bunch of faceless musos that Alice chose to pluck from relative obscurity, aren't doing too bad. It's all hair, torsos and frantic, primitive head smacking. Alice stands amongst them, the calm in the fury. The familiar grave stare as his world tilts dangerously around him.
Then he carelessly casts 'Under My Wheels' out in front of him. The Pack, the Crazies and all the Inbetweens ravage it. Getting the flesh between the teeth and shaking bloody blue murder. Guttural and animal and quite magnificent.
Of course, when he thumbs idly over 'School's Out' the first few bodies start dropping. Someone explodes to my left, the Alice faces splinter and bleed. It's like a snuff movie set to music. Stripped down it's much more terrifying a spectacle, just like getting a good eye full of how 'Friday The 13th''s Jason looks behind the mask.
Without his bloody throats, his seminal lynching, his gory fate at the hands of Madame Guillotine, with out his spleen theatre and grisly overview, Alice is, oddly enough, at his best. His strength is this simplicity. As Zell dryly observed, at his cluttered arena shows, people tend to wait and see what mind-boggling illusion is next. As opposed to relishing one of the strongest back catalogues in rock'n'roll.
Simply, this was all music and nothing more. It's undeniably true that the newer material, which was embraced warmly, needs a blood smeared hatchet to hold on to so to speak.
Though I'm convinced the way 'No More Mr Nice Guy' rushed from the small PA and caused me a nose bleed, he could play it anyway in the world lit only with a 50 watt lamp and accompanied by nothing more than a battered Fender an it would work.
He broke the final bone with a "See you at Wembley", and scurried away as High Lord Of The Tombstones with the dead shrieking in his wake and the cold light of day still over eight hours away...